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Thinking Positive: The Importance of Good Customer Reviews for Restaurants

Gone are the days when diners relied solely on suggestions made by family and friends alone before patronizing a restaurant. Though word of mouth will always be the most reliable source, more and more potential customers seek out the opinions of fellow customers by reading online reviews.

In fact, 94% of U.S. diners claim they’re influenced by online reviews, so it’s more important than ever for restaurants to understand how to manage, respond, and showcase them.

Reviews provide invaluable feedback, offering insight into areas of your business that can be improved. In the good ole days, businesses relied on customer surveys to collect data, a time and labor-intensive process that was generally unreliable and inaccurate.

But in the digital age, online reviews offer highly useful information about your business and your customers’ experiences in an instant, constantly updating themselves.

Studies show that 75% of people trust a business after seeing a positive review, making them more valuable than gold in the restaurant business. But while good reviews are great, bad reviews give insight into customer concerns or operational issues you may have otherwise overlooked.

By leveraging this data, restaurants have the ability to continuously re-optimize business strategies, reimagine menu offerings, and improve the customer experience.

More stats to consider:

  • Good customer reviews can increase conversions by 270%.

  • 94% of consumers refuse to patronize a business because of negative reviews.

  • 92% of consumers hesitate to make a purchasing decision if there are no reviews left by customers.

  • Only 5%–10% of consumers write reviews.

  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust friends.

  • 82% of shoppers specifically seek negative reviews.

  • 97% of consumers consult product reviews before making a purchase and 26% of those consumers consult reviews for every penny they spend online

  • 30% of Gen Z-ers and Millennials rely on reviews before dining or ordering from a restaurant

  • 67% of consumers will consider leaving a review for a positive experience, while 40% will consider leaving a review for a negative experience.

  • 89% of consumers are more likely to return to a business that responds to its reviews.

  • 57% say they would not return to a business that doesn't respond to reviews.

Managing your restaurant’s reviews

Obtaining valuable feedback is one of the good things that can come out of a bad review, but to stay on top of them, it’s important to understand that you have a brief opportunity in time to respond before the damage can become permanent. This is why regular monitoring and managing of your restaurant’s review sites is crucial.

There’s a limited window of opportunity to acknowledge a customer’s pain point and do your best to turn things around. By assuring the reviewer that you’re listening, addressing their concerns immediately, compensating them in some way for their troubles, and thanking them for giving you invaluable information, you have a chance to take a negative review and turn it into a positive one!

(Tip: Many times customers will be so grateful and feel a little bad for writing a bad review that they’ll write a glowing review instead.)

Don’t forget to respond to your good reviewers as well! A simple “thank you for your business!” 😀 shows that you’re actually paying attention to customers' comments, encouraging them to write more reviews.

Positive or negative, reviews can be an incredibly useful tool for attracting new customers, not only through the psychological effect they have on the reader but by boosting local rankings so that businesses are more likely to show up in online searches.

While positive reviews can rev up sales, negative reviews can just as quickly have the opposite effect. And worse, one negative review can have a snowball effect that’s tough to tolerate.

A restaurant's reputation is more sensitive to the opinions of customers than any other type of business, therefore, you cannot afford to wait until someone leaves a nasty comment to devise a reputation management strategy.

List Your Restaurant on Review Sites

There are hundreds of review sites on the internet, but when it comes to restaurants, these are the top 5:

  1. Yelp

Yelp is the go-to review site for diners scoping out restaurants. In fact, of the 142 million monthly users, most are food-related. That’s why it is so important to claim your business listing on Yelp so you can respond to all reviews–both good and bad–and maintain customer engagement.

2. Google My Business

Google My Business is a completely free online tool that allows you to promote your business on Google. Showcasing your restaurant’s pertinent information like hours, location, and contact information, Google my Business also includes reviews that can be seen by anyone who searches for your restaurant specifically, restaurants in your area, or in “near me” searches. The world’s leading search engine, 76% of all global internet searches are on Google.

3. Open Table

One of the most popular sites diners use to book a table, Open Table is also an online review site that features more than 60,000 restaurants worldwide. For in-person dining, reviews on this platform are critical because when a customer goes to the site to book a table, a review could easily sway them one way or another.

4. TripAdvisor

People traveling to a new city rely heavily on this site to find restaurants near their accommodation. This is especially important for business travelers who count on review sites like TripAdvisor to find food delivery after a grueling conference, a long flight, or a stressful meeting.

5. Facebook

While Facebook reviews don’t help your search rankings the way Google does, because it’s a conversation platform on which many of your customers are already regularly engaging, folks tend to be more at ease, and therefore more comfortable leaving a review. Facebook is also like the best of both worlds when it comes to writing and reading reviews because the majority of the people with which users are interacting are friends and family, so these opinions matter!

Why it’s Important to Claim Your Listings

Did you know that anyone can create a listing for any business? Your 8-year-old niece could create a Google Business listing for your restaurant. Or worse, nefarious people can claim your restaurant’s site and destroy your reputation in an instant. And coming back from that is a tough task at best.

Start by researching all of the top review sites to make sure that your business is accurately represented. If someone else has claimed your business, it’s so important to know before they do some serious damage o your restaurant's reputation. Claiming your listing generally involves letting the review site know that you are an official representative of that business. Some sites, like Google, will require a verification postcard or phone call to make sure you are who you say you are. While this process may seem tedious, it’s for your protection.

Claiming your listing also ensures that you receive notifications when someone posts a new review and gives you the ability to respond to it. If you delay claiming your listing, you run the risk that there are reviews out there that you haven’t addressed. That’s not just inconsiderate, it can be bad for your business.

Handle Negative Reviews like a Pro

A negative review or nasty comment can feel like a kick in the gut. But regardless of how attacked, you might feel, remember it’s not personal, so resist the temptation to react in anger.

Take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, then respond. Having a plan for handling negative reviews before you get one ensures that you can tackle this challenge like a pro.

Here are some tips to follow when responding to a less-than-ideal review:

  • Consult your staff – Ask your wait and kitchen staff if they are aware of the situation. This will help you address any internal issues.

  • Sincerely apologize– It’s hard to argue with the way a person feels. A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way.

  • Go off-platform – Invite customers to speak one-on-one off of the review platform via email or text message to show your sincerity about making things right. The harder you work to turn a negative situation into a positive review, the more likely you’ll turn things around and get a good review from a previously unhappy guest.

  • Don’t react in anger or attempt to change their mind – While it may not be your intention, pushing a customer to change their mind can come off as argumentative and could make things worse. So, do your best to give a positive twist to negative reviews.

  • Don’t cut and paste responses - If a customer is taking the time to write a review, good or bad, they must have strong opinions about the matter mentioned. Using repeat replies shows customers that you aren’t paying attention to their comments and aren’t taking their opinions seriously. Instead, take a moment to personalize every comment by referencing phrases from their review to show that you indeed read it, heard them, and are acknowledging their concerns. And never ever use an automated response. If you’re running into similarly negative reviews over and over, it’s time to take a serious look at the matter and address it immediately.

  • Don’t delete any reviews - Deleting a bad review makes it look like you have something to hide. As tempting as it may be, leaving negative reviews, (which will also include your replies) shows that your customers are listening and being totally transparent.

Keep in mind that you’re never just speaking to the person who left the comment or rating; you’re speaking to every person who’s checking reviews before deciding whether or not to patronize your business.

Responding to reviews in a positive light, regardless of how bad the review might be, shows existing and prospective customers that you’re sincere and genuinely care about providing the best experience for your guests.

Count on the Stars

Some prospective diners will carefully read reviews while some will just take a quick glance at the star ratings before making a decision about patronizing your business. So, if your overall star rating is low, some customers won’t look any further. If your star rating is on the average side, however, increasing it by even one star can lead to as much as a 9% increase in revenue!

Improving your star rating is a numbers game, so you’ll need to work hard at encouraging customers to share their input because the more positive reviews, the higher the rating will climb. But it takes time.

How to Get More Restaurant Reviews

1. Ask

Greet customers in person and ask visitors to your website to share their dining experience online. Customers are more likely to leave a review if you ask directly. Asking for reviews is a great way to gather opinions from customers who typically wouldn’t think to write.

2. Send a Follow-Up Email

Send a follow-up email after a customer has had a positive reaction after dining at your restaurant. Thank them for visiting and kindly ask them to write a review sharing their experience. Include a link directing them to the right page so they can quickly and easily leave their review. Encourage more reviews by including coupons in your email as a way of thanking guests for visiting your restaurant and sharing their experiences.

3. Post QR Codes to Reviews

Give in-person customers easy access to review pages by posting easy-to-scan QR codes on tables, in menus, or at exits, or including a flyer or attaching a sticker with a QR code inside of every delivery bag to encourage off-premise customers to leave a review.

4. Maintain a Strong Online Presence

Customers are more likely to leave reviews if your website is easy to access. Update your social media pages, including links to your review pages as well.

5. Share Positive Reviews on Social Media

Share positive reviews on your website and social media pages to shine a light on your customers’ feedback. Not only does it make the reviewer feel good, but it increases your restaurant’s credibility, and encourages other customers to leave reviews.

Engaging with customers online not only creates a psychological attachment to your business but also makes your guests feel appreciated.

Strategy Recap

What it boils down to is this: positive customer reviews can be the ticket to success for a restaurant, so it’s important to use these strategies to ensure that your review sites are constantly managed to help turn any negative reviews around.

Because restaurant reviews play a huge role in increasing your restaurant’s bottom line, boosting your brand’s reputation, and growing your customer base, it’s important to claim your listings, respond quickly and positively, and do everything you can to use all reviews to your benefit.

By Eileen Strauss


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